(13) The Church, "Under the Milky Way"
“Under the Milky Way” is a mysterious song. I’m still not sure what it’s about: various online theories suggest a bar in Amsterdam named the Milky Way, a sexual encounter, something vaguely Egyptian; however, none of these theories satisfy. The band repeatedly describes the song as a tossed-off accident (and they don’t seem too thrilled that this is the song that pretty much defines them—its own little corner of sadness, we suppose). So let’s say the song is about a dark-evening-of-the-soul sort of mood. “Sometimes when this place gets kind of empty / Sound of their breath fades with the light” has that bleak, party’s-over kind of feel, and the repeated “Wish I knew what you were looking for / Might have known what you would find” hints at a friend’s suicide as the reason for all of this introspection. This mood—sad, thoughtful, lonely—is rendered even darker by “something quite peculiar / something shimmering and white.” A supernatural something? The song isn’t telling. Finally, we have to acknowledge the bagpipe solo. It shouldn’t work, but it’s gloomy, funereal...pretty much perfect.
(4) Magnetic Fields, "I Don't Believe in the Sun"
This track was selected from the Fields' incomparable triple-album 69 Love Songs, which, as you may notice, does not necessarily consist of the usual sorts of love songs that you might expect. Or, since it does actually consist of 69 songs, Stephin Merritt moves all around the spectrum of love, spending much of the time, as he does here, in its shadow. This is a simpler song than many of his compositions, with the lovely lyrical inventions ("The only stars there really are / Were shining in your eyes / There is no sun except the one / That never shone on other guys / The moon to whom the poets croon / Has given up and died / Astronomy will have to be revised…) subverted effectively to the mood of the song. One has to admire the unexpected way we arrive at the rhyme, and that pleasure is part of how we take part in this particular sort of sadness: we can't help but smile—a little. We don't think that takes away from the depth of feeling: in fact it increases the emotional range of the song so that the lows seem a little lower, don't they? I don't know about you, but sometimes I like a brief smile to distract me from my tears.